"Captain Corelli's Mandolin": a true story in the shadow of Louis De Bernieres' 1995 novel

[Based on Christoph U. Schminck-Gustavus' "Kefallonia's Defeated"

(Greek edition by Smili, 1994 -- ISBN 960-7218-60-4)]

On September 8, 1943, Italy capitulated and the bulk of the Italian army occupying Greece surrendered to the Germans. The Western island of Kefallonia was an exception: Amos Pambaloni (the real life soldier who may be the inspiration for 'Captain Corelli') and other officers decided to disobey orders and resist; after some fierce fighting, the Germans took over the island and executed most of their Italian captives.

Thanks to a bullet fired at point blank range that went in and out of his neck, Pambaloni survived and, having met partisan Marika Konstantaki (a likely source for 'Pelagia') while in hiding, was led by her to her parents' house in the village of Faraklata; her father Dionysios, Faraklata's priest, brought in a knowledgeable local man who "cured" Pambaloni's wound with ouzo. Later on, Pambaloni joined Greek partisans on the mainland.

As the sheltering of Pambaloni by the priest and his family became widely known, the Germans retaliated by hanging his son Aggelos from an olive tree in Faraklata's central square on October 24, 1943 ... on the pretext of having found a disassembled pistol in their house. Father Dionysios delivered the holy communion to his son right before the hanging; the decorated hero of the Albanian front refused to reveal to the villagers the name of the traitor (who has since moved to Athens).

Half a century later, an iron cross hanging from the fateful olive tree is a sore reminder of the tragedy. The priest passed away in 1957 and his house is now in ruins, but 'Corelli' is still alive and well in Florence. As for 'Pelagia', whose affair with him appears to have been Platonic, she emigrated to the United States some time after the war.

In a October 31, 1952 letter to Amos Pambaloni (via an Italian officer searching for remains of Italian soldiers), Father Dionysios writes, among other things: "We came to know each other in times tragic and perilous, therefore we will always be true friends. My wife always remembers you and sends you her cordial regards. I am looking forward to your letter, even in Italian if you cannot write in Greek."

[Photos and letter taken from Prof. Christoph U. Schminck-Gustavus' book]

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